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Viking Law and Order

Places and Rituals of Assembly in the Medieval North

Alexandra Sanmark

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The first detailed appraisal of Norse assembly sites, providing detailed discussion of their archaeological profile and landscape setting

Until very recently Viking and Norse assembly sites were essentially unknown, apart from a few select sites, such as Thingvellir in Iceland. The Vikings are well-known for their violence and pillage, but they also had a well-organised system for political decision-making, legal cases and conflict resolution. Using archaeological evidence, written sources and place-names, this book provides a comprehensive analysis of their legal system and assembly sites, showing that this formed an integral part of Norse culture and identity, to the extent that the assembly institution was brought to all Norse settlements.

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Contents

Chapter 1: Researching assembly sites
I. Brief introduction
II. The Contents of this book
III. Previous research: the state of knowledge in 2004
IV. A new interdisciplinary approach
V. Assembly sites in this book: complex and layered

Chapter 2: Norse assembly organisation within its European context
I. Assembly organisation on the Continent
II. Norse administrative organisation

Chapter 3: Assembly sites in Scandinavia: overview of sites, traits and features
I. Sites and case study areas: Sweden; Denmark; Norway
II. Royal and elite presence and involvement

Chapter 4: Assembly sites in Scandinavia: Activities and Rituals of the Elite
I. Mounds
II. Thing ‘peace’ and sacred space
III. Symbolic islands
IV. Rituals of motion
V. The ritual theatre
VI. Spectacle
VI. Conclusion

Chapter 5: Assembly sites in Scandinavia: Activities and Rituals of the Community
I. Time
II. Communication and travel
III. Hearths and cooking pits
IV. Entertainment
V. Building the assembly sites
VI. Communal land
VII. Trade
VIII. Conclusion

Chapter 6: The constantly evolving assembly site: the effects of Christianity and Urbanisation
I. Thing sites – short lived and long lived
II. Top-level assemblies and markets
III. The amalgamation of Assemblies, Towns and Bishoprics: Sweden; Denmark; Norway
III. Conclusion

Chapter 7. The Norse westward expansion: Thing sites in Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland
I. Iceland: Location and communication; Water; Booths; Site markers; Churches
II. The Faroe Islands: Location and communication; Water; Booths; Site markers; Shifts
III. Greenland: Brattahlíð; Garðar; Greenland summary
IV. Discussion and Conclusion

Chapter 8: Thing sites in Scotland
I: The top-level assemblies
I. Introduction
II. Administrative organisation: Units; Hierarchy
III. Top-level sites in Scotland: Shetland; Orkney; Caithness and Sutherland; Rosshire; Kingdom of Man and the Isles; Ireland
IV. Conclusions

Chapter 9: Thing sites in Scotland II: Local assembly sites
I. Water location: Islands, Isthmuses and Streams
II. Mounds
III. Boundary locations
IV. Churches
VI. Conclusions

Chapter 10: Assemblies in the longue durée
I. ‘Barbarians’ v. Romans
II. Power of the past
III. The Legacy of the thing institution
Abbreviations
Bibliography

About the Author

Alexandra Sanmark is Reader in Medieval Archaeology at the Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands. She specialises in The Viking Age in Scandinavia and the Viking expansion in the west and the North Atlantic, with a particular focus on landscape archaeology. She is also a specialist in the Christianisation of Europe and Scandinavia as well as Viking-age religion and ritual.

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